In performance: Till Fellner, Part VI
Fellner's Beethoven sonata journey moves into home stretch
by Charles T. Downey
On Monday evening at the Austrian Embassy, Till Fellner performed the sixth of seven concerts devoted to Beethoven's piano sonatas. The Austrian pianist began this journey of journeys back in December 2008 at the National Gallery of Art, which has co-sponsored the cycle with the Embassy Series. Last month's snowstorms forced the cancellation of the fifth of these concerts, and because the National Gallery has no plans to reschedule it, Washington will end up with an almost-complete Beethoven cycle from Till Fellner.
(read more after the jump)
While Fellner's unmannered approach thus far in the cycle made it seem like he was merely tossing off some of the early sonatas, he gave a pearl-like finish to the Op. 14 pair on this program. Understatement was still his calling card, especially in the comic third movements, the humor acknowledged with nothing more than a wink of an eye. A more impatient pianist might be tempted to rush the tempos of these less challenging works, but Fellner allowed the music to play itself out, like thread unwinding from a spool. The dramatic contrasts of the Op. 13 sonata ("Pathétique") came to the fore, with a rhythmically free Grave section in the first movement answered by a windswept Allegro.
Fellner brought the same gusto to the opening movement of Op. 22, taking full advantage of the piano's orchestral scope. Unfortunately, the bel canto aria of the second movement was interrupted by a cellphone ring, so disruptive that it was surprising that Fellner did not just restart the movement. The climax of the program, the daunting Op. 81a ("Les Adieux"), was rock-solid, moving from the rapturous and ethereal sadness of departure to ecstatic surges of notes up and down the keyboard, signaling the joy of reunion.
-- Charles T. Downey
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